Vital at every age for healthy bones, exercise is important for treating and preventing osteoporosis. Not only does exercise improve bone health, it also increases muscle strength, coordination, and balance, and leads to better overall health.

Why Exercise? Like muscle, bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. Young women and men who exercise regularly generally achieve greater peak bone mass (maximum bone density and strength) than those who do not. For most people, bone mass peaks during the third decade of life. After that time, we can begin to lose bone. Women and men older than age 20 can help prevent bone loss with regular exercise. Exercising allows us to maintain muscle strength, coordination, and balance, which in turn help to prevent falls and related fractures. This is especially important for older adults and people who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis.

The Best Bone Building Exercise

The best exercise for bones is the weight-bearing kind, which forces the body to work against gravity. Some examples of weight-bearing exercises include lifting weights, walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, tennis, and dancing. Examples of exercises that are not weight-bearing include swimming and bicycling. While these activities help build and maintain strong muscles and have excellent cardiovascular benefits, they are not the best way to exercise your bones.

Exercise Tips

If your loved one has health problems - such as heart trouble, high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity, check with your doctor before beginning a regular exercise program.

According to the Surgeon General, the optimal goal is at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days, preferably daily.

Listen to your body. When starting an exercise routine, your loved one may have some muscle soreness and discomfort at the beginning, but this should not be painful or last more than 48 hours. If it does, you may be working too hard and need to ease up. STOP exercising if your loved one has any chest pain or discomfort, and see your doctor before the next exercise session.

If your loved one has osteoporosis, ask your doctor which activities are safe. If your loved one has low bone mass, experts recommend that he/she protect the spine by avoiding exercises or activities that flex, bend, or twist it. Furthermore, avoid high-impact exercise in order to lower the risk of breaking a bone. You also might want to consult with an exercise specialist to learn the proper progression of activity, how to stretch and strengthen muscles safely, and how to correct poor posture habits. An exercise specialist should have a degree in exercise physiology, physical education, physical therapy, or a similar specialty. Be sure to ask if he or she is familiar with the special needs of people with osteoporosis.

A Complete Osteoporosis Program

Remember, exercise is only one part of an osteoporosis prevention or treatment program. Like a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, exercise helps strengthen bones at any age. But proper exercise and diet may not be enough to stop bone loss caused by medical conditions, menopause, or lifestyle choices such as tobacco use and excessive alcohol consumption. It is important to speak with your doctor about your bone health. Discuss when your loved one might be a candidate for a bone mineral density test. If he/she is diagnosed with low bone mass, ask what medications might help keep the bones strong.

The National Institute on Aging (NIA), one of the 27 Institutes and Centers of the National Institute of Health (NIH) leads a broad scientific effort to understand the nature of aging and to extend the healthy, active years of life.